Second To None

April 17, 2001

By Mike Kreiger

Cougar baseball coach Tim Mooney was looking for a spark plug to help the Cougars score some runs, so he turned to second baseman Bookie Gates. Two weeks later, Mooney got exactly what he wanted. The hot-hitting Gates propelled the Cougar baseball team to a few key victories and picked up some accolades along the way.

Gates, a junior from Seattle's Garfield High, was named the Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Week after hitting .714 in three games against UCLA March 30-April 1. Gates became the 55th player to win the award for the Cougars, but only the third to do so since 1998.

The WSU coaching staff was impressed with Gates' incredible performance.

'Bookie had as good a weekend as a player can have,' said head coach Tim Mooney. 'He deserves the success because he has worked so hard to improve his play. Weekends like Bookie had don't just happen, they are the result of a lot of hard work. He has improved himself as a hitter and as a defensive player, but more importantly, as a leader for this team.'

Bookie was glad to win the award, but he was more concerned about losing two close games to the Bruins.

'I'm happy with the honor, but I'm not satisfied considering we didn't get a chance to pull off two of those wins against UCLA,' said Gates, who has a team-leading 14 multiple-hit games this season. 'I would rather get a series sweep than earn Pac-10 Player of the Week.'

The one victory the Cougars did manage over UCLA will go down in the annuals as the greatest comeback in WSU history. After trailing by 10 runs in the series opener March 30, WSU rallied and won WSU 12-11. Gates collected a pair of hits, scored twice and drove home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

'We were in the same situation against California a week earlier,' Gates said. 'We were down 10-0 and let down on ourselves. Then we realized we were in the same situation against UCLA and we couldn't let it happen again. We said we'd try to make a comeback. We chipped away at them, and finally we got the opportunity to win the game.'

While at the plate, there are a million things a batter can think about. For Gates, there is only one thing on his mind.

'Mentally at the plate I just want to get those runs in,' Gates said. 'Most of all, I just stay relaxed and try to put the ball in play. Something will happen. If I get a good swing, the rest will take its place.'

The rest continued to take its place after Gates won the coveted award. He hit .500 in the following series against Arizona April 6-8. In the final game against the Wildcats, Gates exploded with a perfect 5-for-5, six RBI performance highlighted by a three-run home run in the second inning. His heroics pushed the Cougars to a 17-14 triumph over Arizona. Over a six game stretch, Gates hit .609 and raised his batting average to an impressive .349.

'We want to contend for postseason play,' Gates said proudly. 'Personally, I want to help the team in as many ways as possible. I want to bring out the best in myself, as well as in our players and coaches.'

His coaches are thrilled to have a talented leader like Bookie on the team.

'He brings leadership, and he's hitting very well,' Mooney said. 'The thing I respect the most is that he is a better player now then in the fall. He has improved both his defensive and offensive skills. He has always had the tools, but now he's refined them. He has better technique now than he's had in the past, and Bookie is a very coachable player.'

Gates knows his role on the team, although his leadership is not always of the rah-rah style.

'I want to provide leadership for this team,' said the perennial jokester. 'I tend to not be too vocal, but I will be when it's needed. Other than that, I lead by example. We have a motto I told the team, `Let's play hard, play smart, and have fun.' That's the key, we have to go out there and have fun.'

Gates is enjoying the new coaching staff and his game has improved along the way.

'Coach Mooney will not settle for less,' said the right-handed slugger. 'He pushes you to your utmost potential. He would say something like I had was a good week, but I could have a better week. It's good that's he's here. He has made a better player out of me defensively. He pushes us to be the best we can be.'

One of Mooney's challenges has been making Gates a second baseman and a shortstop.

'We worked on it in the fall,' Mooney said. 'He's one of the most athletic guys on the team. He was making great plays, but not the routine plays. I think he was trying to do too much. We moved him to shortstop and he is doing outstanding. With him playing several positions, it allows us to put our best nine on the field. He might go back to second base, but I like having him capable to play either.'

Gates, a sports management major, plans to be a sports agent.

'It's something I've always wanted to do,' he said. 'I would love to go to Seattle because that's where most my family is, but if opportunity comes to travel around and there's a job opportunity, then I'll take it.'

Until then, Gates has a lot on his plate as a clutch performer for the Cougars. Whether smashing home runs or turning a double play, this Cougar is turning heads in the direction of the Palouse.

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